Christina Balit (1961-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Surname pronounced "Ba-leet"; born 1961, in Manchester, England; current surname, Price) Balit; Education: Chelsea School of Art, B.A.; Royal College of Art, M.A.; also attended Morley Theatre School and Questors Theatre School.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Lisa Eveliegh, 26-A Rochester Sq., London NW1 9SA, England.
Illustrator and playwright. City and Guilds School of Art, London, England, tutor.
Travel grant from Thames Television, 1982; award for Outstanding Children's Book, Primary English, 1995; best Books selection for junior education, 1996; Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist, 1996, for Blodin the Beast, and commendation, 1997, for Ishtar and Tammuz.
(And illustrator) An Arabian Home: Leila and Mustapha's Story, Hampstead Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Atlantis: The Legend of a Lost City, introduction by Geoffrey Ashe, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
Escape from Pompeii, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
Author's works have been translated into Gaelic.
Michael Morpurgo, Blodin the Beast, Fulcrum Publishing (Golden, CO), 1995.
Christopher J. Moore, Ishtar and Tammuz: A Babylonian Myth of the Seasons, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1996.
James Riordan, The Twelve Labors of Hercules, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1997.
Jacqueline Mitton, Zoo in the Sky, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 1998.
Mary Hoffman, Women of Camelot: Queens and Enchantresses at the Court of King Arthur, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Robert Leeson, My Sister Shahrazad: Tales from the Arabian Nights, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2001.
Jacqueline Mitton, Kingdom of the Sun: A Book of the Planets, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2001.
Lois Rock, Everlasting Stories: A Family Bible Treasury, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001, published as The Lion Bible: Everlasting Stories, Lion (Oxford, England), 2001.
Jacqueline Mitton, Once upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellation Stories, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2003.
Lois Rock, The Lion Book of Tales and Legends, Lion (Oxford, England), 2003, published as Saintly Tales and Legends, Pauline Books & Media (Boston, MA), 2004.
Lois Rock, Easter: The Everlasting Story, Lion Children's (Oxford, England), 2004.
Agony for Beginners, produced in London, England, 1989.
Woman with Upturned Skirt, produced in London, England, 1992.
The Sentence, produced in London, England, 1996.
British-born writer and illustrator Christina Balit grew up in the Middle East, and her experiences living in this exotic culture are especially evident in her first published writing, An Arabian Home: Leila and Mustapha's Story, as well as in her illustrations of Arabian tales. In addition, even her illustrations of Bible stories are "reminiscent of ancient Near Eastern art," in the opinion of Booklist critic Todd Morning, writing in a review of Everlasting Stories: A Family Bible Treasury. The location of the tale she is illustrating also has an affect on Balit's style; in her self-illustrated titles Atlantis: The Legend of a Lost City and Escape from Pompeii, for example, she draws on Greek and Mediterranean art styles to better place readers inside the setting of each story.
Early in her career in children's books Balit began creating illustrations for stories by other authors, predominantly on books dealing with mythology, fairy tales, or Biblical stories. Working with writer Lois Rock, Balit illustrated stories retold from the Bible, such as the story of Easter, as well as Rock's accounts of the lives of the saints. Everlasting Stories includes one hundred different tales enhanced by "stunning illustrations and borders on every page," according to Linda Beck in a review for Library Journal. Morning, in his Booklist review, praised Balit's illustrations for their "vitality."
Working with Jacqueline Mitton, Balit has illustrated books that introduce young readers to constellations and the solar system. Writing about Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations in Booklist, Carolyn Phelan commented that the book "certainly has eye appeal." Though Phelan found the text by Mitton, an anstrophysicist, to be less informative than might have been desired, she concluded that, due to Balit's illustrations, young readers will nonetheless find the book to be "a visually dynamic introduction to the animal constellations."
Several of the titles Balit has illustrated have been retellings of traditional myths or stories, from Hercules's Labors to Shahrazad's Arabian tales. In Christopher J. Moore's Ishtar and Tammuz: A Babylonian Myth of the Seasons, Balit's artwork brings to life the Babylonian goddess of creation, Ishtar, and Ishtar's son, Tammuz, the god of fertility. When Ishtar realizes that her son is more popular than she is, she jealously banishes him to the land of the dead, only to beg him to return when she realizes his banishment caused the Earth to become lifeless. The goddess of death agrees to release Tammuz, but only for half of the year. "The visual impact of these highly stylized illustrations underscores the dramatic nature of Moore's retelling," commented a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, while Karen Morgan, writing in Booklist, described Balit's "sumptuous double-page spreads as visually exciting and dramatic."
Balit also draws on mythology in her self-illustrated works. In Atlantis, she uses Plato's legend of the legendary sunken city to tell the story of how Poseidon, god of the sea, falls in love with a woman and marries her. When he comes to live on his new wife's small island, he transforms it into a beautiful and fertile land that their children will rule for generations. When Poseidon's heirs eventually become corrupt, the god creates a storm that sinks the island, Atlantis, to the bottom of the sea. "Balit captures the elemental forces that create Atlantis and then destroy it," praised Ilene Cooper in her Booklist review. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that the author/illustrator "gracefully retells the story" by using a "sumptuous palatte," while Laura Scott commented in School Library Journal that Balit's "boldly colored illustrations extend the text with pleasing design."
Escape from Pompeii draws more on history than mythology, retelling the story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Here Balit focuses her story on two children, Tranio and Livia, who only barely make their way out of Pompeii before the coastal city is completely destroyed. Setting the stage for the disaster through Traino's eyes, Balit explains that Mount Vesuvius was once thought of as the protector of Pompeii. The boy travels throughout the city on his daily errands, only noticing the tremors of the ground beneath him as he reaches his father's theater group. When he realizes the extent of the danger, Traino runs to find his friend Livia to make sure she is safe. Years later, Traino and Livia return to Pompeii and stand on top of layers of ash, beneath which Balit shows the buried city. Wendy Lukehart, reviewing Escape from Pompeii for School Library Journal, recommended the book to "children who thrive on disasters" and commented on the art illustrating the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, calling it "a dramatic spread with a firey-red center." A Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the work is "elaborately illustrated," and that Balit's use of stylized poses and period clothing work to make the ancient setting come to life for young readers. A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that while "illustrations dominate this vivid story," Escape from Pompeii is "a dramatic, visually exciting look at a cataclysmic event."
Balit once told Something about the Author: "I remember the books I kept as a child, and it was always perfectly clear that I was going to make my own. The Middle East left its mark. The world is littered with it. It made sense to surround myself with reference to history and proto-history of the ancient Near East. I had wandered around those ruins often. They were regular weekend picnics, thanks to my parents.
"When one of my books is published, I pick it up and read it to my children. That's when I notice the pictures I worry about, that I wish I had more time to make, that I imagine re-doing. But it's over. The deadline rules us all, as do book fairs and sales trips and proofs by October. Finally the art work goes back in a drawer, rarely on a wall, because it doesn't belong on one.
"So I move on to the next book, trying always to remember that, like an actor, it is my job to honor the text, and not the other way around. I live with an actor, and I feel for him desperately. He can only work when asked, and he shoulders all responsibility for our well-being and upkeep. I can do what I do whether I'm asked or not. I climb that ladder to the loft and just keep doing it. I yearn to write a beautiful play, to paint the perfect book. I blame my parents, of course. They encouraged me not to limit myself to anything, to be confident and go do—go work. If I told them tomorrow that I wanted to drive a train, they'd say 'Great! Why not? Fax us from Mexico.'
"My need to make something from nothing is the reason my blood runs, and I need to keep it thick. I read somewhere that Jacques-Yves Cousteau said 'If we didn't die, we would not appreciate life as we do.' I don't fear dying, but I can't imagine how people live if they don't 'make' things."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 1996, Karen Morgan, review of Ishtar and Tammuz: A Babylonian Myth of the Seasons, p. 123; November 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations, p. 498; May 15, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Atlantis: The Legend of a Lost City, p. 1754; July, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Atlantis, p. 2011; January 1, 2002, Todd Morning, review of Everlasting Stories: A Family Bible Treasury, p. 854.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2003, review of Escape from Pompeii, p. 1220.
Publishers Weekly, July 22, 1996, review of Ishtar and Tammuz, p. 242; June 19, 2000, review of Atlantis, p. 78; December 15, 2003, review of Escape from Pompeii, p. 72.
School Library Journal, March, 1989, p. 176; December, 1996, p. 132; May, 2000, Laura Scott, review of Atlantis, p. 160; April, 2002, Linda Beck, review of Everlasting Stories, p. 140; November, 2003, Wendy Lukehart, review of Escape from Pompeii, p. 88.*